Around the World in 80 years in a hot air balloon

On the contrary: The shortest trip in history


 Ready for take off - balloons are filled with hot air

Ready for take off - balloons are filled with hot air

Historical trip in a hot air balloon

One could classify this as the shortest trip in history. In fact, to be honest, it wasn’t actually a trip. If one wanted to be pedantic, you’d say it was an outing. A special one, nonetheless. The mode of transport has been used for trips for decades, whether fictional or real. It is an invention that spans centuries, one that invokes romantic but somewhat impractical images of travel. That hasn’t stopped many from wanting to circumvent the world or a few thousand meters over scenic terrain.

 

 Gaps in the basket where you can place your feet to climb in

Gaps in the basket where you can place your feet to climb in

 

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Packing list:

Warm jackets, especially in winter, as it is chilly. Suitable, comfortable clothing and shoes to scramble in and out of the basket.

Camera for those scenic shots.

Binoculars to spot unreachable game or other fantastic sights in the distance.

Hat or cap (optional) – just in case you don’t want your noggin burnt.

 

Our trip

 No wonder it takes so long - a lot of space to fill with air

No wonder it takes so long - a lot of space to fill with air

 

We clambered into the basket ungracefully. A noisy blast of hot air filled the balloon. It lifted off the grass and drifted up into the sky – for approximately 500 meters then came to a standstill, barely moving to the side. Short bursts from the burner filled the balloon with more air so we could rise a few metres more. We inched sideways for a few meters and hung in the air, motionless. We were going nowhere. Eventually after walking around the basket to get 360-degree views, we came down to earth with a gentle bump.

The end.

 

 Preparing the balloon for take off

Preparing the balloon for take off

The full story

Way back in our early twenties, newly married, my husband came home from work, eyes glistening. He had a cheeky grin planted on his face. In those days there was no such thing as mobile phones, so it must have been a mission not to share his news with me till after work.

While driving to work he saw a tethered hot air balloon dangling in the sky. He pulled to the side of the road, parked his car and proceeded to have a loud conversation with the lady in the basket, asking her what she was doing up there. It was for an advertising campaign, and she had to pose in the balloon and was getting rather bored. She lowered the basket and asked him if he wanted to join her. Naturally he was happy to volunteer to keep her company. They weren’t allowed to untie the balloon, therefore couldn’t drift off into the sunset… None the less, it was an experience that he enjoyed.

 

I of course voiced my disappointment that I didn’t have the opportunity to do the same, even if it was only to stay in one spot. In those days hot air balloon flights were way beyond our budget to even consider adding to our bucket list. Nevertheless, considerate hubby promised me a flight in a hot air balloon when I turned forty. I was a bit miffed that I’d have to wait so long, but throughout our married life he was reminded of his promise. It became quite a family joke over the years. 

 

 Getting there

Getting there

My hot air ballooning experience - the shortest trip in history

 

The day finally arrived, and the flight was still rather expensive, but a promise is a promise. I had to share my trip and we would both experience this indulgence. By that stage we had two sons. They were dying to go with us in the balloon, but understood wholeheartedly it was my treat (although they couldn’t understand why their dad had the privilege of joining me) and were thrilled enough just to watch the procedure of preparing the balloon for flight. Little did they know their dad had arranged that they could fly with us. He kept it from them until it was time for us to climb in the basket.  

The flight would take off from Glenburn Lodge, just 30 minutes from Johannesburg or Pretoria. It would fly over a private game reserve near the Zwartkops Mountains in the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site.

 
 Couldn’t get over the size of the balloon

Couldn’t get over the size of the balloon

It takes a considerable amount of time to fill the balloon with air. Excitement was mounting and as soon as the balloon was ready, we called the boys and said they could climb in. At first they didn’t realise they were going with, but once the reality set in, they were over the moon.

Fortunately there are some footholds that you can step in to climb into the basket, or gondola as it is known. It could have been tricky otherwise to climb in.

 The smaller balloon that took off getting lift

The smaller balloon that took off getting lift

The air was crisp and still. A perfect chilly Highveld winters day. It was going to be glorious floating around and looking at the scenery – finally my dream had come true.

With spurts of hot air our pilot got us off the ground. She cannot steer the balloon and hot air ballooning is very much dependant on the weather. If the winds are too strong, they won’t take off. If there is no wind, as in our case, they will take off, but all you can do is hang around in one spot. One can’t tell until you’re up in the air. It can be rather disappointing to stay in one spot. Our pilot tried her utmost (she was a professional balloonist champion) to get us high enough for a thermal to get moving, but the air was just too still.  

 The smaller balloon and basket were more fortunate and traveled a bit further

The smaller balloon and basket were more fortunate and traveled a bit further

We shuffled our way around the basket or gondola, to make the most of our view and time up there. It might not have been the Serengeti or the Namib desert, but I’ll take it. We even saw a few wild animals, including some rhinoceros. I somehow doubt they are still around, though, with the poaching over the years.

 Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!

As a result of the still air, our landing was quite sedate as well. We were warned to brace ourselves, just in case, but the likelihood of having an exciting landing was minimal. The balloon descended and our gondola touched down quite gently.

 I think I spotted a rhino!

I think I spotted a rhino!

We had the traditional champagne or rather sparkling wine after the flight, with a full breakfast at Glenburn Lodge afterwards, so all was not lost.

 

I still enjoyed the flight, even though we didn’t get very far. It would be lovely to have a better hot air ballooning experience, but if that’s the only one I’ll get, I won’t complain. After all, I got my opportunity as promised. The sensation of floating in the air, when the burners are quiet is unreal. Peaceful, and relaxing, I could have drifted in the air for hours.

Just as well I wasn’t trying to get around the world in 80 days though.

It would have taken me a lifetime!

 

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